L.A. City Council to Decide on Blocking Burglar Alarm Policy

LOS ANGELES

Two City Council panels split Jan. 27 on whether to veto the Los Angeles Police Department’s policy directing officers to stop responding to unverified burglar alarms. The disagreement sets up a possible showdown when the full council takes up the issue Jan. 28.

But the committees generally agreed that the council should ask the Police Commission to delay implementing the policy for 90 days, which would allow formation of a council task force to recommend other ways of reducing false alarms, according to the Los Angeles Times.

After a lengthy joint public hearing, the council’s Public Safety Committee voted 3 to 2 to recommend that the council veto the policy; the Education and Neighborhoods Committee voted 2 to 1 to sustain it. Councilwoman Janice Hahn, who heads the council’s Education and Neighborhoods Committee, supported a veto, which would force the Police Commission to delay the policy.

“Clearly what happened in this instance is people overwhelmingly felt this was a decision by the Police Commission to change a major policy … and the very people impacted were not given an opportunity to voice their concerns,” Hahn said, according to the article.

The council panels voted after 90 minutes of testimony from the audience of more than 50 people. Most were opposed.

Under the policy, officers would respond to burglar alarms only if the alarms are verified as genuine by the property owner or a private alarm company. The City Council can veto the policy with a two-thirds majority, although the Police Commission could simply approve it again.

During testimony, backers of the new policy, including Police Chief William J. Bratton, said an epidemic of violent crime in Los Angeles – including 22 shootings and eight homicides in an 84-hour period – dictates that police no longer be required to respond to unverified burglar alarms. Last year, 92% of such alarms proved to be false.

LAPD officials told the council members that, while officers were trying to handle the 22 shootings, they also had to respond to more than 880 burglary alarm calls. Of those, 97% were false alarms.

“Do I put my officers out chasing the burglary fairy, when 92% of burglar alarms have been false alarms, or do I put them out chasing the crime in this city – the murders, the robberies, the rapes?” Bratton asked, according to the article.

Council members said the task force should look at options, including an increase in fines for false alarms and some mechanism to force alarm companies to reduce false alarms.

The consensus in favor of forming a task force was reached despite warnings by the LAPD that the alarm industry has failed in the past to agree to reforms to reduce alarms. Among other things, the industry has not agreed to disclose the names of alarm subscribers who have not obtained police permits. About 65% of false alarms come from alarms without permits, making it difficult for the city to collect fines, officials said.

Bratton challenged opponents of the policy to cite any major city in which the alarm industry has agreed to reforms that significantly reduce false alarms. “If you believe in any of their promises, good luck to you,” he said. “The idea that 90 days or 180 days are going to lead to a resolution on the part of this industry – it’s not going to happen.” Industry officials said they have ideas for ways to cut false alarms by 75%.

In a letter sent to alarm company members from the Greater Los Angeles Security Alarm Association (GLASAA), the association charges that the LAPC staff had produced new charts on alarm activations, which included changing the criteria to include non-burglar calls and raising the number of calls.

In addition, “The LAPC/LAPD still claims that ‘most major alarm companies’ support their policy of verified response in the city. We are not aware of companies, and they have not provided the names,” the letter stated.

Council President Alex Padilla said the police commission’s failure to tell residents an opportunity to weigh in on the issue shows the need to reform the process of giving residents notice of major decisions, but he does not see that as reason to overturn the policy.

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